Respecting Adolescents' Confidentiality and Reproductive and Sexual Choices

Joanna Erdman


Adolescents, defined as between 10 and 19 years old, present a growing challenge to reproductive health. Adolescent sexual intercourse contributes to worldwide burdens of unplanned pregnancy, abortion, spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and maternal mortality and morbidity. A barrier to contraceptive care and termination of adolescent pregnancy is the belief that in law minors intellectually mature enough to give consent also require consent of, or at least prior information to, their parental guardians. Adolescents may avoid parental disclosure by forgoing desirable reproductive health care. Recent judicial decisions, however, give effect to internationally established human rights to confidentiality, for instance under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which apply without a minimum age. These judgments contribute to modern legal recognition that sufficiently mature adolescents can decide not only to request care for contraception, abortion and STIs, but also whether and when their parents should be informed.

This paper was co-authored with Rebecca Cook, University of Toronto ( and Bernard Dickens, University of Toronto (


Health Law; Gender and Sexuality; Human Rights and Discrimination

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